Tuesday, August 30, 2011

“Declaration Toward a Global Ethic”

Can the religions of the world work together for the good of all people, or do they often fight, sometimes even violently, against each other. The answer is Yes.
Throughout the history of the world, including very recent times, there have been clashes between people of different religions. (When analyzed carefully, though, most of those conflicts have been more political and ethnic battles than religious clashes as such.)
But for a long time now, some leaders of the world religions have worked together for better understanding and the good of society as a whole. One of the first international meetings for interreligious discussion was the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. That meeting was held in Chicago as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492.
Leaders from the ten great religions of that time spoke. Their addresses and many other talks were published in The Dawn of Religions Pluralism: Voices from the World's Parliament of Religions, 1893 (1993). Much of that lengthy book is available at this link.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a centennial commemorative meeting, was held in 1993 and it was also in Chicago. Over 8,000 people from all over the world and from many diverse religions gathered to celebrate, discuss and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront the world.
The idea of a global ethic was the main theme of the 1993 gathering, and at the close of that meeting, on September 4, the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic” was signed by many of the religious and spiritual leaders present. (The complete 15-page text of the Declaration can be found here.)
Mainly drafted by Hans Küng, the German theologian, the Declaration identifies four essential affirmations as shared principles essential to a global ethic.
  1. Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life
  2. Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order
  3. Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness
  4. Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women
Those are four highly desirable commitments.
But how has the world done in living by the global ethic since 1993? Not very well, I’m afraid. Just eight years later, led largely by militant Muslims, terrorists tragically attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And the U.S. retaliated by the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, which continues to this day.
In March 2003, less than ten years later, the U.S., supported in part by (can we say) militant Christians, began the preemptive war on Iraq. In contrast to the 3,000 killed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there have been over 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003!
Still, the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic points to worthy goals, which should be warmly embraced, widely advocated, and implemented as fully as possible. And there are signs of hope, such as in the numerous, mostly non-violent (from the side of the protesters) Arab Spring activities, for example.
But progress is slow. How much closer, one wonders, will the world be toward living by a global ethic even in 2093?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Challenge of the Classroom

The new academic year began last week for primary and secondary schools in this part of the world, and most colleges/universities in the area began classes this week. Once again both teachers and students face the challenge of the classroom.
After nearly three months of “freedom,” young students face the restrictions required for classroom decorum and the necessity of having to concentrate on doing their schoolwork. Teachers have to struggle with the problem of discipline in the classroom and getting the students engaged in the learning process. That always has been quite a challenge, but perhaps even more so now than in the past.
Even though they face various challenges, teachers, both good teachers and those who aren’t so good, have a lasting impact on their students. I still remember, mostly with fondness and gratitude, all of my grade school teachers.
On the Internet I was able to find the birth and death dates as well as the burial places for each of my grade school teachers from the third grade, my first year in Worth County (MO), through the eighth grade. I was surprised to discover that even though, with one exception, I thought they were quite old when I was in their classrooms, that wasn’t the case at all!
I probably don’t remember all of my high school teachers and would not be able to find out information about each of them, for some of them were not from Worth County and did not remain in the area. But I do remember most of them, and I am also grateful for the influence they had on my life.
The same is true, of course, for my college and seminary professors. And I am very pleased that a couple of them are regular readers of this blog. I am also happy that a number of my former students also read this blog.
My experience as a teacher is all on the college and seminary level, which is quite different from primary and secondary education. Still, the college classroom has its unique challenges for both students and professors.
Except for my first full year of “retirement,” I have taught college or seminary courses every year since 1968. And there certainly have been challenges, especially when I started teaching and had to lecture completely in Japanese!
But I enjoyed my years of teaching in Japan, especially after making it through those difficult first five years or so. And it was a pleasure to teach (in English!) in three different schools in Missouri during “furloughs” from Japan.
Since the fall of 2006 I have greatly enjoyed teaching one course each semester at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. I teach one section of the required course Christianity II: Development. This semester I will be using a different textbook than I have used in the previous five years. It is Mark Ellingsen’s Reclaiming Our Roots: An Inclusive Introduction to Church History; Volume II: From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. (1999).
I can’t wait to get to my classroom this evening, the first class of the new semester, and once again confront the challenge of the classroom.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Is Compromise a Dirty Word?

Compromise is “a rather complex issue that deserves serious thought.” So I wrote in an August 5 comment following that day’s blog posting in which I cited Max Weber’s oft-quoted statement, “politics is the art of compromise.”
In March of this year, speaking to a small group of college students, President Obama candidly and openly emphasized the importance of compromise. Part of that conversation is included in an article by David Plouffe, a Senior Advisor to the President (available for viewing/reading here.)
Plouffe’s brief article closes with these words: “Compromise isn’t a dirty word—in fact, it’s the only way our democracy can get big things done.”
The President made similar statements about compromise several times in July. And earlier this week, speaking in Iowa, President Obama reiterated, “Congress has to get the message that compromise isn’t a dirty word.”
But last Sunday, on a CNN interview, Rep. Michele Bachmann declared, “On big issues, I don’t compromise my core sets of principles.”
In some ways that is a commendable attitude. I think people ought to stand up for their principles—but only when they are they are the only ones affected by that resolute stance. It is different for politicians or others acting in the public arena.
One of Rep. Bachmann’s core principles seems to be not raising taxes on anybody and not raising the debt ceiling, which was necessary in order for the U.S. to make its payments on money already borrowed. So she voted No on the compromise debt ceiling bill.
But there were a number of liberals who also voted No on the same compromise bill. They, for good reason, did not want to pass the bill that provided no additional revenue.
For Rep. Bachmann and those on the political far right, compromise is evidently thought to be a dirty word. The same is true for those on the political far left.
“Emphasis on Not Compromising” is one subsection of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism (pp. 68-72). Unwillingness to compromise is one of the most common characteristics of fundamentalists. That is true for “fundamentalist liberals” also.
Often the choice is not between good and bad. Sometimes the choice is between the good (not the best) and something worse. Or often it is a choice between options, neither of which is “good.” But if our only choice, as sometimes is the case, is between two “evils,” is not choosing the lesser of two evils good?
If we are making choices only for ourselves and the course of action we will take, a course that does not directly affect others, we can be idealistic and stay true to our principles and refuse to compromise. Such action is, I believe, virtuous.
But when we are in a group setting, and especially if we are in a position of leadership or responsibility, the matter is different. We have to consider the good of the whole group, not just our personal commitments.
In a group setting, it is a bit arrogant to say, by word or by deed (vote), My way or no way.
The “purists” are loath to compromise, but in the public arena they sometimes cause the good to fail because it wasn’t what they considered to be the best.
Individually, we should always beware of the good becoming an enemy of the best. But sometimes, especially in the public arena, stubbornly seeking the best can become an enemy of the good.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Atomic Bombs and Balloon Bombs

Sixty-six years ago today, on August 15, 1945, the long and bloody war with Japan finally came to an end. By a nationwide radio broadcast a little after noon (Japan Standard Time) on that day, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.
VJ Day and the end of World War II came when it did largely because of the U.S. dropping two atomic bombs: on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki three days later.
Although there were actually more causalities from the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, 1945, than from the bombing of Nagasaki, the instantaneous deaths and devastation caused by “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”, the two atomic bombs, is truly mind-boggling.
Just this year I have learned about the balloon bombs made by the Japanese and sent by wind currents toward the United States, bombs strikingly different from atomic bombs.
You may have known about this before, but I was surprised to learn that in May 1945 a pregnant woman and five children on a church picnic were killed by one of the over 9,000 balloon bombs launched by Japan in 1944-45.
Elsye Mitchell (26) and the five Sunday School students (ages 11-14) from the church in Bly, Oregon, where Elsye’s husband, Archie, was the pastor were the only WWII causalities of U.S. citizens on American soil. (In 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, Hawaii was not yet a part of the United States.)
Elsye and the children got out of the car in a park on Gearheart Mountain, while Archie drove on to find a parking spot. As they were looking for a good picnic spot, they saw a strange balloon lying on the ground. As the group approached the balloon, a bomb attached to it exploded and Elsye and all five children were killed.
Earlier this summer I read An Ocean Between Us (1994), a most interesting book about the relationship between Japan and a small area in the state of Washington. Evelyn Iritani, the author, is an American woman born to a Japanese-American father and a Japanese mother. In her book she relates four encounters between Japanese and people living in or around Port Angeles, Washington.
One of those stories is about Elyse (Winters) Mitchell, who was from Port Angeles.
Iritani also writes about Reiko Okada, a Japanese girl about the same age as the older children killed in the bomb explosion in Oregon. Reiko worked in a balloon bomb “factory” during the war. Iritani tells movingly about the Japanese people who through the years have expressed sorrow for the deaths caused by the balloon bomb.
There is now a Mitchell Monument erected near the spot of the Oregon tragedy, and several cherry trees have been planted around the monument as a symbol of peace.
Whether it is the deaths of tens of thousands caused by two atomic bombs or the death of just a few by a lone balloon bomb—or whether it is the deaths of people in Japan or Oregon in 1945 or in Afghanistan or Iraq in 2011—the loss of life, and especially of non-combatants, in war is tragic indeed.
Will we humans never learn to co-exist in peace?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Remembering Nagasaki

It was on August 9 sixty-six years ago that Fat Man, the second atomic bomb to be used in war, was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.
Through the years I have been to Nagasaki many times, and two or three times on 8/9. One of the most memorable times was in 1982, when my family and I went to Nagasaki just three days after I had been stabbed (and which I wrote about here).
(There were those who thought I should have stayed home to nurse my wounds, but I am never much inclined to change plans. We put many of the get-well-soon flowers received from Japanese friends in the refrigerator and set out for Nagasaki to do what we had planned.)
Late Sunday afternoon on August 8, 1982, I attended the World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs, which had been held the first time in Hiroshima in 1955. Conferences have been held regularly since that first one, including this year on August 6 in Hiroshima and on August 9, in Nagasaki.
Then on that Monday morning we sat in the hot sun with hundreds and hundreds of Japanese people, remembering the death and destruction caused by Fat Man 37 years earlier at 11:02 a.m.
The previous morning we had attended worship at the Nagasaki Baptist Church. I don’t remember when the service began then, but in recent years the Sunday morning service is scheduled to start at 11:02 each week.
There was something notably new at this year’s Nagasaki activities. The Japan Times reported on August 8 that the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo had announced the day before that on Tuesday (8/9) the U.S. would for the first time send a representative to Nagasaki’s annual peace memorial ceremony marking the 1945 atomic bombing of the city.
James Zumwalt, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Japan, said regarding his upcoming visit, “I am honored to be the first U.S. representative to attend the Peace Memorial in Nagasaki, and to express my respect for all the victims of World War II. The United States looks forward to continuing to work with Japan to advance President Obama's goal of realizing a world without nuclear weapons.
The August 9 events in Nagasaki are held in Peace Park, which includes the 10-meter-tall Peace Statue (pictured below) created by sculptor Seibou Kitamura from Nagasaki Prefecture. The statue’s right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons while the extended left hand symbolizes eternal peace. The impressive statue was completed and erected in 1955, ten years after the bomb killed about 75,000 people and injured about the same number.
The ceremonies held in memory of the victims of the atomic bombs of the past are over for another year. The hard task of working for the elimination of nuclear weapons in the world still lies ahead. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Art of Compromise

Compromise was finally victorious, although there were several days when it seemed that partisanship and intransigence were going end up being triumphant.
I am speaking about the debt ceiling crisis, which was finally averted on August 2, the day of the deadline. The U.S. House of Representatives voted the day before to pass the compromise bill by a rather decisive vote, 269-161. Then on Tuesday the Senate also passed the bill decisively, 74-26.
It is noteworthy that in the House there were 95 Democrats and 66 Republicans against the bill and in the Senate there were 19 Republicans and six Democrats (and one Independent) who voted No—but for opposite reasons. Right-wing Republicans voted against it because it did not cut enough, whereas left-wing Democrats voted against it because it provided no additional revenue and because of fear that there were needy people who would be hurt by the cuts.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, called the bill “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich” (whatever that means) and voted against it. Representing the district just below Kansas City, Republican Vicky Hartzler, about whom I wrote recently, also voted against it, asserting that the bill “has the wrong priorities for my district and for America.”
On Monday I heard and read strong criticism of the passage of the debt ceiling bill from both the Right and the Left. That is one indication that the bill was a compromise, for compromise means that neither side is satisfied. (House Speaker Boehner did say, however, that he got 98% of what he wanted.)
But who compromised the most? I think it is clear that the President and the Democrats made the greater compromise. Some have even said that Obama is now characterized not by “Yes I can” but by “Yes I cave.” But what other choice did he have? He had to do what was best for the country, and it became apparent that the right-wing Republicans in the House were not going to make any compromise.
Last week’s cover, and cover story, of The Economist is “Turning Japanese,” a serious criticism of President Obama and German Chancellor Merkle and their lack of sufficient leadership (and an embarrassment to Japan). But that news journal’s strongest criticism is of Republican congressmen [sic] who “have recklessly used [the debt ceiling] as a political tool to embarrass Barack Obama.”
In that same July 29th issue is an article called “Red means recalcitrant,” which is based on a survey which indicates that Republicans are far less willing to compromise than Democrats. And that is what we saw played out in weeks prior to the August 1-2 vote in the U.S. Congress.

In 1919, the German economist and sociologist Max Weber wrote an essay (“Politics as a Vocation”) in which he stated that politics is the art of compromise and decision-making based on social benefits weighed against costs. Political action, Weber argued, cannot be rooted only in conviction, since one person’s conviction can be another’s social anathema. Thus, a politician should combine the ethic of ultimate ends with an ethic of responsibility.
It can certainly be argued that the latter is what the President did and what most Republican congresspersons were almost completely unwilling to do. It is sad when politicians lose the art of compromise. But that seems to be the case for a large number of U.S. politicians at the present time.